Saturday, July 31, 2010

What's happening in the ivory tower?

I came across a blog post on InsideHigherEd recently about PhD programs and the disappearing tenure-track job market and how PhD programs should help their students to do something more than research and specialization in an area that has a focus on tenure-track professorial jobs (because as we all know adjunct instructor pay stinks).

The main point of the author here is that PhD programs should include:
  • Teacher education because simply knowing your subject matter does not make you a great teacher of said subject matter
  • Higher Ed. Management - so you know the inner workings of your environment
  • Leadership Development
  • Media Training

Now off the bat, I don't get the media training piece - perhaps someone could explain this to me.  Leadership development - well, shouldn't you have had this when you were working on a Master's degree?  As part of my MBA, MSIT and MEd I've worked in teams for projects, even as an upper level undergrad taking grad level science courses I did some teamwork based projects.  A PhD program is not where you do this - perhaps it's a professional development thing.

Teacher Education I kind of get.  I think that all PhDs that DO plan on teaching should be required to put in at least 12 credits worth of teaching undergraduates and graduates (12 credits = teaching 4 courses) before they can be vetted as a PhD recipient. As part of this 4 course teaching tour they should be required to go to non-credit seminars on teaching, instructional design and education technology.

As far as Higher Education Management goes - there are MA, MEd and EdD degrees on the subject matter! If you are going to get your PhD in Education or Chemistry for example, why spend extra semesters taking Higher Ed. Admin courses?  Will you use them right away? No you won't!  And you if do need it right away...I hate to tell you, but you are in the wrong PhD program :-)

I also came across this post where the author wrote the following:

Research in your field is king. You get a PhD in your subject area, be it biology, literature, nursing or music. Because we are not rewarded for improving our teaching, we don't do it. Our time is spent on administrative duties, our research and, yes, teaching.  But we have been told, you need to do research to get tenure. So we make research our priority. Our PD [Professional Development]? Going to conferences in our field, to learn about the latest research and findings. We are expected to stay on top of what's going on in the field we teach.  Ed tech? What's that? Will it help me get tenure? No? No, thanks!

This is what I've been saying for quite some time - perhaps not on the blog, but at least I've been saying it in person :-)  Tenure-track faculty and tenured faculty get evaluated on the quantity and quality of the scholarly work that they produce (i.e. articles and books they write AND get published).  Sure they get a tick-mark for teaching a course and not sucking at it, but for every tick they get for teaching a course decently they probably get three, or four or five ticks for the research they do.  If your carrot is research and publishing and not teaching, why would you do that?

Then again, if PhD programs are meant to prepare you for the wonderful world of tenure-track-dom, where research and publishing is values ûber alles, why would you spend time in non-research and publishing activities?  I was also under the impression that the Master's Degree was the professional-go-get-a-job-out-of-academia degree, so why would you retool a PhD to do that?

I feel strongly about the need for teacher education in a PhD program, but I am flexible on the other aspects mentioned - feel free to convince me either way :-)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Does spelling matter any more?

A week or so ago I saw this posted on eLearning Brothers and I had a facepalm moment. I have to say that I am one of those people, the people that are turned off from misspelled words and misused words.

Yes, I know we've all, by now, seen this:

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

The fact of the matter is that it's not really about our brain's ability to decode the mess that we see above.  The brain can do it, provided that we know (or think we know) the words that are there.  If we don't know the words, and we need to look them up to figure out what the sentence says, we are SOL (sh*t-outta-luck).

When I see things such as "truely" or "twelth" I tend to discount the writer as sloppy!  If it's on a blog - I may pay less attention to it - given that a blog sometimes tends to be a stream-of-consciouness thing and language is more fluid. We may have started to say "true" but in mid thought our brain switched paths and went with "truly" thus "truely" makes sense from a stream-of-consciousness perspective.

However, if  these typos are on a proposal of some sort, or a final product, or  someone trying to make a cogent argument for or against something (be it a blog or not), then to me this signals that the author (or authors) don't care enough to really proof read their work - if they don't care about the proposal, what does this imply about the quality of the rest of their work?

Now don't get me wrong, I am not a language nazi - but from a functional perspective written, codified, language has one purpose - to communicate your idea when you are not there to articulate it yourself. It needs consistency and uniform rules to be applied.  Misspelling breaks those rules and places hurdles on the primary objective of written text: the decoding and comprehension of someone else's thought process.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Evolving Paradigms in Knowledge Management

I came across this brief video on the Harvard Business Review the other day on how knowledge management is moving away from the repository as goal.

Here's the transcript of the video:
One of the interesting ways of capturing the problems with traditional knowledge management is it came at knowledge from a stocks viewpoint, a stocks of knowledge. The problem is, we have knowledge, it's distributed and dispersed throughout the organization. How do we capture it and make it available to others?

Certainly a big challenge, I don't want to diminish that as a value, but I think what people found as they tried to implement the various systems and methodologies to do that is there wasn't really a lot of motivation for people to invest the time and effort to develop and define those stocks and make them available as part of a broader repository.

This kind of approach really shifts the attention from stocks of knowledge, what we know today, to defining and developing new knowledge, addressing critical performance objectives that the company, the firm, has in front of it, so that you're driving and not by learning in the abstract, but because there is a real performance challenge in front of us; how do we identify the right people, bring them together, create the environments, and by the way; because of the digital platforms that we have now, as we create these environments, we are capturing, as a byproduct, the knowledge that's created as part of that environment. So, it becomes available to others but it is not the primary focus. It's a byproduct.

Back in the day when I was an MBA student studying knowledge management, one of the goals was a repository of knowledge. The major question was how does one capture what people in the organization know and make it available to others in the organization so all can benefit. So if I came across some fix for a persistent bug on company desktops, how can I share what I know so that Peter, Paul and Mary can benefit from my stroke of genius?

There are of course hurdles here - why would I (or any employee for that matter) spend their extra time in a KM system to document their knowledge - documentation is a drag (let's be honest) and if you're not accustomed to doing it then it seems like something that takes you out of your workflow.

I agree to some extent with this new paradigm of capturing knowledge as we collaborate with others on projects - this certain takes care of new knowledge created, as well as older undocumented knowledge that surfaces to help with this collaboration - however I still think that there is a valid reason of having a knowledge repository. Look at wikipedia - it IS a knowledge repository - we aren't necessarily developing new knowledge, we're just putting the pieces of the puzzle together. People still flock to it to GET information and there are people who go to it to GIVE information.  What motivates these people to GIVE?  This is what we need to look at in our organizations and foster such a giving environment.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Technology Illiterate Students

I keep reading (and hearing) about the wonder about this supposed Net Generation, or millennial students or...well other terms that mean the same thing: absolutely nothing ;-) 

In the past couple of years I've heard and read so much about how these students process things differently and that we need to adapt our ways of teaching to suit their unique learning preferences and technology savvyness.  Now, I am a member of this generation - granted I am from the early stages of this generation having been born in the early 80s, but I am a member of this generation nonetheless. Being a member of this generation I call all this BS. I've actually been thinking about doing research and writing about it (and hopefully getting published).

My main line of though is this: just because a certain group of individuals has grown up around technology, it doesn't mean that they know how to use it effectively.  The main comparison that I can make is cars.  I grew up with cars in my life, as a matter of fact I own a car.  I can drive both automatic and a standard.  That doesn't mean I know what's going on in the engine.  Luckily my dad is an auto-mechanic (and a damned good one), so I can pick his brain about things and learn all this stuff (if I want to).

Computers are the same.  Students seem to know how to do a lot of separate tasks. They know how to check on facebook, they know how to view something on YouTube, they know how to open up a word process, press a couple of keys on the keyboard and make text appear.  This doesn't mean that they know how to deal with the information they are getting from the device. They don't know how to look up help and use a new function (that they don't know before hand) in excel, they don't know how to evaluate information they find on Google and they don't know how to use google, and other sources, to pick up information that is most relevant to them!

Students are, in essence, technologically illiterate - there is a digital divide - we just seem to want to no acknowledge it because of the flashiness of current computer technology and the fact that non-millennials seem to think that just because Johnny knows how to update his facebook status, he can create an MLA or APA style bibliography in Microsoft Word.

We need to move away from the false notion that people born after a certain decade, in a certain part of the world, know what they are doing on the computer and we should not assume that they would benefit from a radical chance in Educational Technology integration and pedagogy chance.  We should do a proper learner analysis in our own classroom, and THEN determine what teaching approach is the best for this group of learners.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Good Ideas don't Die!

I was recently reading these two articles on ProfHacker, one was on RSS & SMS integration in the (library) catalog, and the most recent one about mobile applications for libraries.

This brought me back to my days as an MSIT student.  Back in those days I took many opportunities to work on homework/class projects that dealt directly with library systems - some examples are IT/Library mergers and integration, patron privacy and Project Wormhole - which is what these ProfHacker posts reminded me of!

Project Wormhole* (yeah, I used imaginative names), was a project I worked on for an Object Oriented Programming course.  The main idea was that each patron would have a customized library homepage that they would log-onto and they would have a widgetized HUD of all of their information needs.  The patrons already have a library barcode and a student/staff ID number, so there isn't really a need to create yet another log-on! They just need to log on with information that they already have and customize their interface. 

The main elements of my design were:

1. One search to rule them all! 
Back then we had our own catalog, worldcat, ILL (through ILLiad) and the Massachusetts Virtual Catalog - and this was just for books! So in order to keep things simple, this one search would be sort of google-esque.  You would put in your search terms and then this magical algorithm would search through all books, ebooks, journal articles, patents, theses, newspapers, and the web, and would provide you with a consolidated view of all items that pertain to your search.

Of course that would be a TON of results, so the patron would have the ability to sort and filter by content type - whether it's a book or an article for example, whether it's something available in the building (i.e. your library), locally or if you have to send away for it, and there could be a social aspect of this where journal articles and books could be annotated, reviewed and "starred" (I guess similar to libraryThing and GoodReads).

1.1 Easy Access to content
Now once you've done your search and you've discovered that your local library does not have this item you are looking for, next to the search result there could be a "get this item through ILL" - one click ordering like amazon!  All the bibliographic information would be sucked into the ILL system and the thing would be ordered for you! Just one click!

2. RSS everywhere!
OK, databases have had RSS for a while, but you need to go into each database and specify your interests. M'eh.  Too much work!  Let the system work for you!  In your library profile you could have (1) your major (2) the courses you are taking this semester and (3) interests other that these aforementioned two categories.
As the library acquires more books, as the journal providers acquire the rights to more content and make it available, and as campus events happen - if there is ANYTHING that hits upon your major, minor, course topic types you're taking or your other interests you will get real-time updates on your RSS feeds, on your homepage.  From there you can simply click on the new Journal, Article, Book, whatever item it happens to be and you can have access to it!

You can also incorporate feeds from Amazon's "new items" for example so as new books become available you can put them on a "wish list" indicating to the library that this is something you want to read and that they might want to purchase!

3. Notifications Galore!
Another box on the homescreen would be notifications - when books are due, if books are available for pick-up, if you have fines and so on.  If you have fines, you'd be able to pay them right then and there! If there is a book that you need to return soon, you can do 1-click renewal (if allowed)!  This of course would tie into an SMS system where the user would have an option to receive SMS notification of new books, new articles, upcoming due dates for books, fines and so on! Through another system the patron could also renew items via SMS.

Going with the "RSS everywhere" theme, this could also tie into your blackboard courses so your coursework notifications and email, as well as your campus based email, can be previewed and accessed through this portal.

4. A real academic social network
OK, granted this would only be via your institution, but think about it! You are researching X in department X and Joe Schmoe is researching X in department Y.  You are both researching the same related area and could collaborate but your don't about it because you are in different departments!  By having a social profile on this library portal you can not only discover information, but people as well! You COULD collaborate on projects with people you never knew existed!

In addition, if you are researching X in department X and Joe Schmoe is looking for a guest speaker for X in his Y class, it's now much easier to find experts in X to come to talk about it in his class!  It's a win-win!

Anyway, those were my ideas for MSIS 615 - I had worked together a prototype UI with some mock action back in the day - but I never had a chance to see this implemented. Reading the ProfHacker posts leaves me with an optimistic feeling that I am not the only one who's thought about this (or at least is making the case for this) and that some day (soon I hope!) we see this become a reality :-)

* I do believe that I called it Wormhole because of Stargate - a portal that brings you to new information (yeah, I know, geeky)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Why Johnny can't Code

A month or so ago I came across this this post on Salon via OSNews. I read both the OSNews post and the Salon post and I've wanted to write about it since, but something wasn't sitting right - I just couldn't put my finger on it. Well, yesterday - reading about child development, specifically language development, it hit me!
Here's an excerpt:

Only there's a rub. Most of these later innovations were brought to us by programmers who first honed their abilities with line-programming languages like BASIC. Yes, they mostly use higher level languages now, stacking and organizing object-oriented services, or using other hifalutin processes that come prepackaged and ready to use, the way an artist uses pre-packaged paints. (Very few painters still grind their own pigments. Should they?)

And yet the thought processes that today's best programmers learned at the line-coding level still serve these designers well. Renowned tech artist and digital-rendering wizard Sheldon Brown, leader of the Center for Computing in the Arts, says: "In my Electronics for the Arts course, each student built their own single board computer, whose CPU contained a BASIC ROM [a chip permanently encoded with BASIC software]. We first did this with 8052's and then with a chip called the BASIC Stamp. The PC was just the terminal interface to these computers, whose programs would be burned into flash memory. These lucky art students were grinding their own computer architectures along with their code pigments -- along their way to controlling robotic sculptures and installation environments."

But today, very few young people are learning those deeper patterns. Indeed, they seem to be forbidden any access to that world at all.

What this reminds me of is the difference between language and linguistics. When I was a computer science student as an undergrad, I learned the linguistics of computation, not the language -- in contrast to high school where I was learning the language of programming to do something with that language - i.e. make a game.

I think that coders knowing and appreciating the underlying structure of a computing architecture is a good think to know and to have, however, do we expect our five-year-old learning language for the first time to be able to parse sentences and bust-a-rhyme like no one's business? No, not really! (unless you've got some pretty gifted children out there!)

Believe it or not, what can be accomplished with a procedural language can be accomplished by an object oriented language - you just have to break down your mental framework and think outside the box.

The author goes on to say:
Those textbook exercises were easy, effective, universal, pedagogically interesting -- and nothing even remotely like them can be done with any language other than BASIC. Typing in a simple algorithm yourself, seeing exactly how the computer calculates and iterates in a manner you could duplicate with pencil and paper -- say, running an experiment in coin flipping, or making a dot change its position on a screen, propelled by math and logic, and only by math and logic: All of this is priceless. As it was priceless 20 years ago. Only 20 years ago, it was physically possible for millions of kids to do it. Today it is not.

This line or argument has a parallel in language learning: Kids should learn latin first because latin has more cases than english and you can parse sentences out with much greater precision. Is this a prepositional phrase or a coordinated conjunction phrase? or both? or neither? With english it's more ambiguous because the lack of declined endings on nouns but latin is clearer! Now any parent (and school teacher) will tell you that this is complete and utter bullshit. Children pick up language - they problem solve and form new frames of reference to be able to communicate.

The same thing is true for learning about computers - it's not the language you use, or how far away you are from the hardware, it's about problem solving. If you want to get closer to the hardware, forget BASIC - go with assembler language :) Personally I think that the author has a major case of nostalgia and is looking for a way to let it out.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think there is a certain magic when it comes to classic hardware and software. If I ever had a kid I would like to program using AppleSoft BASIC on an Apple IIgs (it would bring back memories of school for me), or get an old atari with LOGO on it. The point however is not that there is something inherently better about one language over another. The point is that learning A language is good, no matter what that language is. If you really want your kid to know how a computer works, teach them binary mathematics ;-) (or assembly language)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Definition of a PLE

This came across my twitter stream today, pretty interesting what you can do with a Prezi (haven't spent much time on Prezi - I suppose I should once I finish Applied Linguistics and I have some more free time on my hands :-) )

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Blackboard buys WIMBA & Elluminate, the crowd goes wild!

Well, last night Blackboard went on the Borg trail again - resistance is futile, you will be acquired!

This time around it's WIMBA and Elluminate that are up on the acquisition block.  Some people have rejoiced at news of the acquistion while others have dissenting opinions (same link as the rejoice, just scroll down).  From a business point of view I think that Blackboard did the right thing, they obviously had a deficiency in their product, open source alternatives like Sakai and Moodle were doing what Blackboard is doing with their current LMS product, so they needed a differentiator.  Even if you do use Moodle or Sakai, you still need synchronous capabilities, don't you? So you can be happy with your Open Source LMS and still buy a blackboard product.  Also by buying two products in the same category you're eliminating competition!

Of course, there is the side that makes business sense - in the fiscal, competitive sense - and the business side that makes sense in the marketing, listening to customers, and having-customers-flock-to-you-because-you-have-a-great-product-not-because-they-have-to sense.  Blackboard fails miserably at this. Their reputation is bad among academic circles (you know, the teachers, not the admins), and with this Borg culture of theirs, (Prometheus, WebCT and Angel acquisitions for the LMS and now WIMBA and Elluminate) they are seen more as the bad guy rather than an innovator.  I think that Blackboard is consistently viewed as the Microsoft of the LMS.  I think the company needs to wake up and smell the beans - otherwise this alienation from their customers will cause them to lose some serious dollars in the future from a fleeing customer base (or from an antitrust hearing).